Harry Enfield prompts uproar after defending blackface and using racial slur live on BBC radio

Harry Enfield prompts uproar after defending blackface and using racial slur live on BBC radio

Harry Enfield prompts uproar after defending blackface and using racial slur live on BBC radio

Harry Enfield prompts uproar after defending blackface and using racial slur live on BBC radio

Harry Enfield prompts uproar after defending blackface and using racial slur live on BBC radio 1

Harry Enfield has sparked outrage after using the word “c**n” in an interview defending blackface.

The comedian, who last donned blackface to play actor Harry Belafonte in a 2014 comedy special, was involved in a debate on the Today programme with host Nick Robinson and comedian and writer Ava Vidal.

Enfield, 59, recalled playing South African anti-apartheid freedom fighter Nelson Mandela as a drug dealer, at the very moment, in 2007, that the BBC had urged staff not to don blackface.

“I’ve done it, several times in the past, I’ve played Nelson Mandela in one thing for laughs,” he said.


“I thought, who is my hero? Nelson Mandela, who I had the pleasure of meeting once, and what’s the stereotype of black people? Well, at the time there was a lot of things in the papers about drugs, so I made him a drug dealer or a pedaller of alcopops for children and things like that, which I thought was so wrong that it was right.”

Asked by presenter Robinson whether he understood that blackface has a historical connotation of demeaning and undermining black people, Enfield said that he did not intend to cause offence.

“Let me tell you, Nick, obviously Al Johnson or GH Elliot, who played the Chocolate Coloured C**n in the 1930s – they perpetuated the myth of the happy negro who was just very happy to sing under the crack of the whip, the American whip or the British imperial bayonet and obviously that’s deeply offensive and always will be.”

Robinson then interrupted, reminding Enfield that the terms he used were potentially offensive and should not be repeated.

“Just to be clear, Harry, because there will be people offended by that term you just used,” Robinson said. “You’re using it in inverted commas. Let’s not repeat it, but it’s a term that was used at the time.”

“Well that was his name on stage,” Enfield replied. “But I’ve played Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, David Cameron – four prime ministers. Say Rishi Sunak became prime minister, I would find it difficult that I would not be allowed to play him because of the colour of his skin.”

Vidal then suggested that Enfield should have subverted stereotypes in his comedy, rather than reinforcing them, particularly in his impression of Mandela.

“I think the whole point was to say how preposterous this stereotype was by playing Nelson Mandela as that stereotype,” Enfield replied.

Robinson then wrapped up the conversation.

On Twitter, many people criticised not only Enfield’s comments, but Radio 4’s decision to permit the actor to defend blackface.

“Radio 4 getting Harry Enfield on Today to defend blackface in comedy is another horrid example of the media somehow thinking this is a ‘debate’ with ‘two sides’,” journalist James Temperton wrote, adding: ”It isn’t. Blackface is racist. We don’t need a debate.”

Mollie Goodfellow added: “That Harry Enfield was even asked on to ‘defend’ black face on BBC R4 at the same time the *same* BBC is removing shows that feature it shows something is broken.”

“Listening to Harry Enfield saying ‘c**n’ on @BBCr4today (‘but that’s what he was called!’) is not really how I wanted to start the day,” arts editor Anita Singh wrote.

The debate followed Little Britain being removed from from Netflix, BBC iPlayer and BritBox amid amid concerns about its use of blackface and racist humour.


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